Nanotech Scenario Series
2003 Newsletter Archives
Note: The Center for
Responsible Nanotechnology is an affiliate of
World Care, an international,
non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. The opinions expressed by CRN in our
newsletters and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of World Care.
#3 (February 23)
#4 (March 6)
#5 (March 22)
#6 (April 7)
#7 (April 25)
#8 (May 15)
#9 (June 25)
#10 (August 5)
#11 (September 5)
#12 (October 8)
#14 (December 3)
C-R-Newsletter #14 December 3, 2003
in the Molecular Nanotechnology Controversy
Big Nano Law (but they left
What CRN is up to...
Big News in the Molecular Nanotechnology
Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley squared off in the pages of
Chemical and Engineering News. Smalley has been saying for years that
Drexler's proposals can't work. In this debate, he gave more technical details
for his argument--and stumbled badly. He agreed with Drexler that enzyme-like
tool tips could do precise chemistry, but claimed--incorrectly!--that enzymes
can only work under water. So the limitations, if any, on enzyme-like tool tips
have yet to be established.
C&EN Cover Story
CRN press release:
Published Debate Shows Weakness of MNT Denial
CRN 6-page analysis
Foresight press release - Nobel Winner Smalley Responds to Drexler's
Challenge: Fails To Defend National Nanotech Policy
Foresight commentary - Is the Revolution Real?
Kurzweil commentary - The Drexler-Smalley Debate on Molecular Assembly
Big Nano Law (but they left something out)
The U.S. Congress has passed a $3.7 billion dollar law on
nanotechnology: the "21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development
Act." This is great for nanoscale technology, but the Act deliberately excludes
study of molecular nanotechnology. The House version had called for a study of
molecular manufacturing, including detailed questions such as key scientific and
technical barriers and estimated timeframe. But in the final version, this was
changed to "molecular self-assembly," a much more limited form of
nanotechnology--but the name is similar enough to fool people. Nano commentators
have been critical and even snide. Mark Modzelewski, head of the NanoBusiness
Alliance, says: "There was no interest in the legitimate scientific community –
and ultimately Congress – for playing with Drexler's futuristic sci-fi
notions." Nice to know the nation's nanotech policy is in such wise hands.
House version - see Section 8(b)
Final version - see Section 5(b)
Howard Lovy's commentary
Paul Hollister's commentary
What CRN is up to...
Preparing the analysis for the Drexler/Smalley debate took a
lot of time. That doesn't mean we can take it easy now! Chris is also writing a
presentation, handout, and
supporting web page for the EPA panel discussion
he'll be participating in on December 11. In fact, there are about twenty
papers, projects, and tasks on our list. If this newsletter is a bit short,
CRN was invited to
comment on the British Royal Society's interim nanotechnology
workshop report. Basically we told them that yes,
molecular manufacturing will be difficult, but no, it probably won't take till
2080--more like 2010.
CRN has added an FAQ to our
All our papers (except
the Current Results
pages) are now available in PDF format for easy printing, as well as HTML for
easy viewing. All our papers are available for free. We are also selling printed
and bound copies of two papers, "Design
of a Primitive Nanofactory" and "Three
Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of
C-R-Newsletter #13 November 10, 2003
We've got lots of exciting news this month. CRN goes to
Washington! Chris Phoenix has been asked to participate in a panel that will
talk to the Scientific Advisory Board of the Environmental Protection Agency
about nanotechnology. This is a great opportunity to get our message across:
that molecular nanotechnology (MNT) will soon produce a cheap,
fast, general-purpose manufacturing system with atomic precision, and that this
has huge implications.
More great news: Earlier this year CRN sent comments to the UN
Millennium Project's "2003
State of the Future" scenarios. Although the Project does not credit any
contributors by name in the printed publication, we recognized several of our
comments and ideas. In the CD that’s included with the printed report, CRN’s
Mike Treder is listed as a participant.
CRN is pleased to announce that Sinclair Wang, the founder of
Tainano, has joined our
Board of Advisors.
He has given us useful advice and information for months, and has also
translated a large fraction of our web site into
In October Mike flew to Darmstadt, Germany, where he was invited to participate
in the "Discovering
the Nanoscale" conference. He joined a group of about 65 academics from
western Europe and the USA to discuss the ethical/legal/social implications
(ELSI) of nanotechnology. He had the opportunity to present a 20-minute talk
about our recent paper, "Three
Systems of Ethics: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of
Molecular Nanotechnology". His remarks were well-received and generated a
lot of questions and discussion. Some of the conference sessions were focused on
educational questions, including the broad history and philosophy of science,
which was interesting but not directly relevant to CRN, and much of the
discussion concerned non-MNT, what we might call nanoscale technology. But there
was also a lot of talk about the long-term implications of MNT, far more than at
the related conference last March in South Carolina, which Mike also attended.
Awareness of such concerns seems to have reached a new level of seriousness, due
in part, we believe, to the efforts of CRN.
While Mike was in Germany, Chris was in California at the
Foresight nanotech conference. As expected, the talks were all on technical
details of various kinds of nanoscale technology. Many were interesting, but
none addressed molecular nanotechnology, and none addressed the ELSI
implications of either kind of nanotech. [Correction, 11/12/03: Foresight
President Christine Peterson did gave a late-night talk on MNT including ELSI
implications, which unfortunately was not well attended.] But the opportunities to talk with MNT
and nanoscale technology researchers were
even more rewarding than expected. A diversity of researchers expected MNT to
happen in about a decade. (That's quite soon! A few years ago, people were
saying 20 years or more.) And most of them thought it was likely to be developed
in China or another Asian country, rather than in the U.S. Chris talked with a
couple of people in the semiconductor industry, who managed to convince him that
U.S. semiconductor companies are not likely to be a funding source for MNT
development. (An early MNT product will be computers, and a few semiconductor fabs cost more than an MNT development project. Sounds reasonable, but
apparently requires too much of a paradigm shift.)
paper has finally been published. It's available
online for free. We're also offering printed and bound copies
for sale. The paper Mike presented at the conference in Germany last month
is also available online,
in near-final version, and when it's finalized we'll be selling printed versions
of it as well. A summary of the paper
was in last month's
The Big Overview Project is coming along nicely. We have two chapters more or
less in the can, describing the technology behind MNT and why MNT is so
important. The next step is to figure out how to design and write scenarios for
MNT development that will be informative and plausible.
Nano in the news... Ratner and Ratner have just published a book, Nanotechnology
and Homeland Security. Unfortunately, it looks like they discount MNT, giving a
cheap version of Smalley's argument against it. Since MNT is the kind of
nanotech that will have the most impact on security, terrorism, and warfare in
the long run, this seems
irresponsible. Speaking of Smalley, sources tell us that an exchange between
Smalley and Drexler will be published in the next few weeks. Will it shed new
light on the "sticky fingers" and "fat fingers" attacks? In other news, ETC
Group recently published a scary commentary on a large-scale use of
"nanotechnology" to protect land burned by a forest fire. But is it actually
scary, untested nanotech, or just ordinary (if innovative) chemistry? We've
criticized ETC once
before for being overbroad in their discussion of nanotech. CRN is
researching these stories and will decide which ones require a response, though
we're pretty sure we'll at least supply an analysis of the Drexler/Smalley
debate. As always, our goal will be to supply accurate information and common
sense in order to improve the quality of nanotech-related discussion and policy.
C-R-Newsletter #12 October 8, 2003
There's quite a lot going on at CRN these days. Chris and Mike
are both leaving later this week to attend conferences. Chris will be attending
Foresight Technical Conference, and Mike will be giving a paper at the
Discovering the Nanoscale conference in Germany.
Mike's paper discusses what will be required for the successful administration
of MNT. It starts with an extension (by Chris and several other people) of Jane
Jacobs' theory in
Systems of Survival. Jacobs talked about two “ethical systems,” Guardian
and Commercial. Thanks to the Internet, there's now a third system: Information.
Guardian is protective, dealing with zero-sum situations. Commercial maximizes
the use of resources: positive-sum. The Information system deals with the
unlimited-sum potential of information: copying information these days costs
almost nothing, and the value to be generated can be vastly greater than the
cost. The paper describes the three systems, explains why each of them must be
used for some facet of administration of MNT, and makes two specific proposals:
an MNT infrastructure of fabrication systems available to everybody, and an
international administration composed of cooperating entities from each of the
three diverse systems. Once the paper is edited and accepted by the conference
people, we'll put the final version online. Meanwhile, the pre-CRN papers that
it's derived from are available
Speaking of conferences, Chris went to the
Accelerating Change Conference last month. Not much of the conference was on
nanotechnology; it covered a wide range of topics, from cosmology to verbal
computer interfaces to peace. But Chris had some great conversations about CRN
and MNT. People were generally ready to hear that MNT was possible, important,
and could happen soon. Chris also put up a poster about rapid development of MNT
with a stack of his business cards. The cards disappeared quite quickly. People
are hearing about us. (We've also heard from a diversity of sources that people
are talking about our messages.) Chris came away from the conference a bit dazed
by all the new ideas--and that takes some doing!
And speaking of papers, the Nanofactory paper is still “in press.” The people at
JET are still re-working their website. We'll keep you posted. The IEEE paper
that we mentioned in the last newsletter is taking shape. It will explain why
it's a good idea to write an Open Source CAD (computer-aided design) program for
MNT products, even though we can't build any yet. There are several reasons: to
prepare for developing humanitarian products ASAP; to ensure that if someone bad
develops MNT first, they're not the only ones who can use it; and to give us
more information about what kinds of stuff MNT will actually be able to build.
We were recently contacted by
Student Pugwash USA for an interview. SPUSA provides resources to high
school and college students. According to their website, “SPUSA focuses on the
interplay that lies at the juncture of science, technology, and public policy.”
They're putting together an “issue brief” on nanotech, and part of that will be
“interviews with prominent people in the field.” Cool! They asked a dozen
excellent questions, and Chris gave a seven-page answer.
One more bit of good news: Greenpeace published a
link to our response
to their big nanotech report! It's in the sidebar of one of their shorter
articles on nanotech.
After we get back from the conferences, we're going to focus on the “big
overview” we've been talking about for the last few months. It looks bigger each
time we revisit it; it will probably take months to complete and may turn into a
book. We'll be writing down, in one big document, everything we believe about
MNT and how to prepare for it. Of course, this won't be our only project, but
it's now at the top of our priority list.
Early in September Mike got inspired, and in one long weekend he did a study and
wrote a paper about it. The study involved ranking countries, and then adding
the rankings, according to a wide variety of criteria related to ability to
develop MNT: economics, education, technical focus, and even political will (on
the assumption that MNT development will be a big project). Mike designed the
criteria, did the research, ranked the countries... and found that the US ranked
5th out of nine, barely ahead of Brazil! The original numbers, with no tweaking,
were: China (plus Hong Kong), 125; Japan, 100; India, 94; EU, 92; USA, 79;
Brazil, 77... We're currently asking other people to review our method and test
our results with their own versions of the criteria and ratings. But we're
pretty sure we have something here worth publishing.
Yet another project: preparing to lobby various people advising various
governments about nanotech, to try to get them to take MNT seriously. We're
starting with the U.S. and England, because we are closest to the U.S., and
England is quite energetically
looking at nanotech from a social perspective.
We'll keep you posted...
C-R-Newsletter #11 September 5, 2003
The Recent Past
Several exciting things have happened in the last month. Chris
moved cross-country from Tucson, AZ to Miami, FL. This took a couple of weeks,
but it doesn't seem to have slowed us down...
paper has been accepted at the
Journal of Evolution and Technology. It should appear on their site late in
September. For now, a temporary copy is linked from our
Two important papers have been published. First, the FAS article we mentioned
last month is now finally
online. Second, CRN got a mention in an
excellent article on molecular nanotechnology by Adam Keiper at
The New Atlantis.
Keiper makes a strong case for MNT: “Drexler and his supporters have made short
shrift of other critics as well. Yet if no one has mounted a serious and
sustained challenge to demonstrate a fatal flaw, or even a major error, in
Drexler’s vision of nanotechnology, why is it so often disparaged by those
involved in mainstream nanotech?” He also talks about the need for informed
policy: “Nanotechnology education is most needed in newsrooms across the country
and in the halls of the Capitol itself: We need reporters who know what they’re
talking about and who ask the right questions, and we need political leaders who
can guide us through the confusing and potentially perilous times ahead. This
much seems clear: If molecular nanotechnology ever becomes a reality, we can
expect massive social disruptions. As for the nature of these disruptions, we
can, at best, only speculate.” Adam tells us that
The New Atlantis is being hand-delivered to each Senator and Representative.
We highly approve.
A few days ago, CRN published a
Greenpeace's report, accompanied by a
Small Times quickly asked us for a
summary for their site; as this newsletter is being written, CRN is on the
front page of their website! We're trying to make it clear that MNT is not just
“one more technology” or even “one more nanotechnology”. It has the potential,
instead, to transform nearly every segment of global society. The most important
point on which we disagreed with them: they say it will take 35 years, and we
say a limited
but still very powerful version could be developed in a decade.
The Near Future
CRN will (of course) continue writing and publishing. We're
currently deciding which of several projects to take on next, or whether to go
straight for the big overview, as mentioned
We'll also be attending conferences. Chris will attend the
Accelerating Change Conference in September, and the
Foresight Conference in October.
Mike would be going to the Foresight conference too, but for a schedule
conflict. He will be delivering a paper in Europe at the
Discovering the Nanoscale conference in Germany. They're even paying his
way. Now we just have to write the paper...
Chris will continue reviewing nanotech books. One book that recently crossed his
desk credulously repeated the Smalley line about sticky and fat “fingers” making
MNT impossible--note that MNT proposals do not even include fingers. No
endorsement for that one! (We shouldn't say more until it's published.) But the
upcoming book by Robert Freitas, on Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, looks
very interesting, and worth getting if you're interested in how MNT production
systems might actually work.
And we owe a paper to the upcoming Special Issue of
IEEE Technology & Society Magazine on “Social
and Policy Issues of Nanotechnology”.
Yep, this month will be busy-busy-busy! And, as always, exciting.
Remember to tell a few friends about
molecular nanotechnology and the need for
C-R-Newsletter #10 August 5, 2003
CRN has accomplished several things since the last
C-R-Newsletter. Chris has finally finished the rewrite of the
formerly called the Bootstrapping paper. It's available
online now. As mentioned before, Chris got an article based on the paper
into the summer issue of the Federation of American Scientists
Public Interest Report. Unfortunately, that issue has been delayed due to
printer problems, but should be hitting mailboxes and their
Chris has been having a very fruitful debate with Bill Atkinson, the author of
Nanocosm. The debate has been posted
online at Nanotech-Now.com. Chris has managed to convince Bill that
molecular manufacturing might actually work. Bill has successfully explained to
Chris some of the reasons why molecular nanotechnology has such a bad
reputation. The summary page includes links to the major arguments and
concessions on both sides.
Greenpeace published a lengthy, detailed, and reasonable
report on nanotechnology, and CRN supported it with a
This led to a mention of CRN in
US News and World Report. We'll also get a mention in the forthcoming issue
The New Atlantis.
The next project for CRN will be a technical response to the Greenpeace report,
explaining why molecular nanotechnology could happen quite a bit faster than
they predict. We hope to have that out later this week, but it might have to
wait a couple weeks; Chris is moving cross-country to Miami this month.
Longer term, we're planning a large publication giving a detailed and
comprehensive overview of why we're concerned about molecular nanotech: why it's
likely to work as claimed, why it could be developed soon, and why we're worried
about that. The response mentioned in the previous paragraph will be integrated
into it, as will parts of our
Current Results pages.
In late June, Mike Treder attended the Transvision 2003
conference. This is his account...
From June 19-22, I attended a conference at Yale University sponsored by the
World Transhumanist Association. I presented a talk on “Safe Utilization of
Advanced Nanotechnology”, and I had the opportunity to meet many interesting,
educated, potentially valuable contacts for CRN. Among the more compelling
people I spoke with were:
|Bill Bainbridge, co-author of a comprehensive report
on “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance”, published by the
National Science Foundation|
|Sonia Miller, a New York attorney who recently
founded the first interdisciplinary bar association for professionals
working in converging technologies|
|Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason
University in Virginia, who has done a lot of thinking about the impacts of
advanced nanotechnology on our economic and social structures|
|Linda McDonald Glenn, a Senior Fellow at the
Institute of Ethics with the American Medical Association|
|Robert Bradbury, a researcher and entrepreneur
specializing in bioengineering, radical life extension, and “wet”
In addition, I became acquainted with two reporters who may be
willing to assist CRN in making a favorable presentation of our messages to the
public. They were Jim Pethokoukis, Senior Editor,
US News and World Report, and Joel Garreau of the
Overall, the conference was highly enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, and served to reinforce the urgency of CRN’s mission. Advances in numerous areas
of scientific research are happening rapidly; many of these may contribute to
the eventual development of molecular nanotechnology. It was gratifying to have
people at the conference approach me to say that they support the work of CRN.
Several said they
admire what we have accomplished in only a short time, that we have quickly
established ourselves as a serious and legitimate source for objective thinking
about policy issues relating to advanced nanotechnology.
C-R-Newsletter #9 June 25, 2003
Commentary on Politics, by Tom Cowper
Nanotech in Fiction
It's been a busy month! Lots of projects, and stuff about to
be published. Mike has an
article coming out in
Betterhumans, and the Federation
of American Scientists' Public Interest Report is publishing one by Chris on the
implications of nanofactory technology. Both of these should be out on June 30.
(The Nanofactory/Bootstrapping paper, of course, is still under construction,
but the PIR article will link to a
draft of it.)
Chris published a scathing
review of Bill Atkinson's book
This led to a lengthy and constructive discussion with the author. In the book,
he basically says that nanobots can't possibly work and Drexler is just a cult
leader. Chris has gotten him to the point of posting a comment on the Well to
the effect that maybe the nanobot people could be useful as inspiration to the
CRN now has a Board of Advisors with six members. We're very happy to have such
good advice. We're evaluating a few more members to increase the breadth of
Commentary on Politics, by Tom Cowper
The C-R-Newsletter #8 dated May 13, 2003 commented on the
large number of issues confronting lawmakers and the perception that they may
lack the time to engage in detailed planning and analysis when it comes to
technology policy. This is in fact a very real issue and one that has serious
implications for the future of nanotechnology.
Politicians, and for that matter executive level government
bureaucrats who are appointed by politicians, truly are confronted with a great
many diverse and complex social, technical and political issues, too many to
understand more than a handful in any detail. They are constantly and
ceaselessly bombarded by lobbyists, special interest groups, professional
associations, labor unions and average citizens, each demanding action and
support for a seemingly infinite number of causes and perceived crises.
Government policy and legislation are not simply nor usually decided on the
technical merits of a particular approach or solution to a social problem.
Politics is the art of charting the government's course through all of the
competing beliefs, opinions and perceptions of a diverse population and reaching
a compromise that hopefully leads to a better society and, of course,
Increasingly powerful emerging technologies such as nanotechnology bring with
them new social complexities that are extremely difficult to comprehend, even
for scientists and engineers intimately familiar with the technologies in
Balancing the exuberance of technophiles with the concerns and
fears of technophobes is no easy matter, particularly for legislators,
regulators and policy makers who are largely or completely unfamiliar with
technology, who then have to sort through the mountains of reports, data, and
advice from every conceivable technical, social and political direction. If we
wish to see a robust molecular nanotechnology within our lifetimes we cannot
ignore the political implications of its emergence. We have to actively engage
politicians and their appointed regulators and policy makers, and do so in a way
that is compelling and informative while being concise and straightforward. We
also have to consider the opinions and concerns of everyone, even opponents, as
we push forward with nanotechnology development precisely because our political
representatives will consider them and will use those opinions and concerns as
they craft new legislation.
It is perhaps a good sign that Congressman Sherman took the
time to attend the latest Foresight Conference and speak with some true nanotech
experts and enthusiasts. But we need to remember that there are 534 other
members of Congress and thousands of executive policy makers in federal state
and local government, most of whom are still completely unaware of the very
complex issues surrounding nanotechnology but who will in the future enact
legislation concerning it. Whether it's helpful or harmful legislation is
largely up to us.
-- Tom Cowper
Nanotech in Fiction
I want to mention a book that came out a couple of months ago,
Conquest of Paradise by
Britt Gillette. The focus of the book is the assembler
breakthrough. A world leader realizes that nanotech is coming, it'll be powerful
and disruptive, and the right people had better get there first.
Britt was writing this at about the same time as CRN was being started. We
had no contact until the beginning of May. But we reached many of the same
conclusions about nanotech policy issues--despite the fact that our politics are
quite different. (Britt dedicated the book to Rush Limbaugh, and had a
character's brother killed by the Sandinistas; the minister of my childhood
church was kidnapped and almost killed by the Contras.) I find it reassuring
that such different backgrounds came up with such similar concerns and
In particular, Britt gives a good description of the possibility of an unstable
arms race, and suggests that unlimited use of limited MNT manufacturing may be a
good way to reduce the number of MNT development programs and maintain better
control of the technology. (This latter point was the subject of a CRN paper,
"Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology.")
As often happens in nanotech fiction, Britt's nanobots are quite a bit more
powerful than physics would allow. But he was willing to post my technical
criticisms on his web site, and said he'll try to fix the problems in future
editions. It's good to see authors who care about getting the technology right,
and who think seriously about the real-world policy and social implications of
My comments on Conquest of Paradise can be found
-- Chris Phoenix
C-R-Newsletter #8 May 13, 2003
Foresight Vision Weekend
Current CRN Projects
Media Coverage of CRN
Foresight Vision Weekend
Chris went to the Foresight Vision weekend a week ago, spoke on a panel,
and had many useful conversations. The panel discussion went well--no
one threw rotten eggs, at least. In other talks, several people
associated with Foresight made a point of mentioning CRN favorably.
In one discussion session, the concept of "tipping point" came up: the
point where an idea suddenly starts to spread widely and become
influential. MNT hasn't yet reached the tipping point, though I expect
it will sometime in the next two years. The question is: what will
motivate the change? Will it be fear--perhaps leading to military
control, unstable arms races, and loss of benefits? Or will it be
greed--perhaps leading to over-eager commercial development without
adequate administrative safeguards? Is there anything else that can
convince and inspire people to start planning for MNT--something that
can lead to a more balanced and sensible reaction? We'd love to hear
your ideas on this.
US Representative Brad Sherman (who's on the House Science Committee)
attended, gave a talk, listened to everything, and spent hours in
conversation with small groups. From what I heard, I got the distinct
impression that lawmaking is not nearly as well-planned as we might
think. The number of issues is staggering, and the demands on a
congressman's time leave very little opportunity for detailed study of
anything. But it's good to know that at least one congressperson is
becoming aware of the issues.
Current CRN Projects
The Grey Goo paper that was mentioned last time is undergoing extensive
revision. We had originally conceived it merely as a discussion of the
technical details of grey goo. But if we're going to publish and
publicize it, we need to talk about policy as well. Also, feedback from
a couple of reviewers pointed out a few things that make grey goo a bit
less scary than we thought--though still very much worth worrying about.
Chris is spending significant time following up on the ideas from the
Foresight weekend, especially the tipping point concept. That concept
implies that a small change can cause a big one--and in this case, the
specific message about MNT that first becomes widely accepted can have a
big impact on the development of MNT policy. Obviously, it's important
that the message be accurate.
Mike is working on getting a Board of Advisors together for CRN. He has
a good list of names and a description of what the position involves.
We're trying for diversity in profession, geography, age, and gender.
The BoA will not control CRN in any way, but we expect them to point out
areas where we can improve our understanding of the issues and the
delivery of our message.
From the inside, it seems like CRN is just creeping along; things take a
lot longer than we expected them to. But we've received a couple of
spontaneous comments to the effect that we're actually moving quite
quickly. One person asked, "When do you two ever sleep?" It's nice to
hear things like that...
Media Coverage of CRN
CRN was featured prominently in a recent Small Times lead story, "Voices
from the grass roots call for responsible nano policy." They were quite
positive, presented us as a significant organization, and covered many
of our key messages.
We also got a mention in this week's
A team in Japan
has succeeded in removing an atom from a silicon surface
and putting it back, using only mechanical force.
brief commentary by CRN's Chris Phoenix, and an informative posting by
C-R-Newsletter #7 April 25, 2003
News and links...
CRN Publishes Early Results
CRN has published several pages
full of ideas on MNT's development
timeline, risks, benefits, options for administration, and the need to
start developing it internationally--and soon.
Eric Drexler Sends Open Letter to Richard Smalley
Eric Drexler finally got fed up with Smalley's
misrepresentation of his
work and straw-man attacks on MNT, and sent a strongly worded open
letter. "Your reliance on this straw-man attack might lead a thoughtful
observer to suspect that no one has identified a valid criticism of my
work. For this I should, perhaps, thank you." Zing!
Christine Peterson Testifies to Congress
Christine spoke to the
House Committee on Science on April 9. Her
position was quite compatible with ours: MNT is coming, it will bring
benefits and problems, we should work to reduce the problems, and we
should start now. "The safest course may be to create a fast-moving,
well-funded, highly-focused project located where it can be closely
watched by all interested parties. Estimates are that such a project
could reach its goal in 10-15 years." She also recommended a basic
feasibility review. She didn't address this issue of national vs.
international development, but what she did say was right on target.
Chris Phoenix to Attend Foresight Gathering
Institute's Group Vision Weekend is coming up, May 2-4.
Chris will be attending, speaking on a panel: "Security, Privacy &
Openness in the Nanotech Era", hosting a SIG: "MNT Policy: The Role (if
any) of Individual People and Nations", and presenting three posters.
We hope to spread our ideas, and get useful feedback on them.
Update on Papers
Paper writing can be a slow process. The Bootstrapping paper
being revised; we hope to have it up by the end of May. Meanwhile,
Chris has finished the first draft of a paper, "Grey Goo: Fact or
Fiction?" Mike has submitted it to a couple of online magazines.
C-R-Newsletter #6 April 7, 2003
Update on CRN Activity
Do nanobots self-replicate? What's the difference between an assembler and a
nanofactory? Does stain-free clothing count as "real" nanotechnology?
Many people are writing about nanotech in many different ways, and the words are
getting confused. We're looking for the best ways to refer to the various
ideas, so that most of our readership clearly will know what we're talking
about. Even one or two suggestions from each of you will help. Tell us what
How do you distinguish the kind of nanotech that makes tiny particles
(sunscreen, buckytubes, etc) from the kind of nanotech that makes tiny
machines? Nanoscale technology vs. molecular nanotechnology? Structural vs.
molecular nanotechnology? Nanomaterials vs. nanomanufacturing?
What do you think of when you hear the word "assembler"? How do you distinguish
a small nanosystem that cannot manufacture anything from one that can duplicate
itself and make products? The latter used to be called an "assembler", but we
may need a new word. Does a "nanobot" self-replicate? Or not? Or it depends?
Is there any way to distinguish a small self-replicator that eats everything
from a small self-replicator that requires a specialized, purified chemical
input? Any way to distinguish a small self-replicator of either kind from a
tabletop or larger manufacturing system that happens to be able to duplicate
Thanks for your feedback!
Update on CRN Activity
We're still plugging away, working toward our next publication event. We'll be
web-publishing a list of potential dangers of molecular nanotechnology, with
some discussion of their interactions and why simple solutions won't work.
We've identified about a dozen serious dangers and risks so far. We'll include
some discussion of the probable benefits of MNT, and a possible timeline for its
We'll also be publishing some speculations about hypothetical administrative
techniques that may be useful after MNT is developed. No recommendations,
yet—we don't know enough about what will be necessary. This will just be to
Once we're done with that, and the Bootstrapping paper is sent off for second
review, we've tentatively selected our next big project: a paper discussing the
issues involved in choosing when to start developing MNT. There are four
variables: cost of development, benefit of development, risk of development, and
risk of postponement. Each of these varies over time in a non-trivial way. We
expect this will be a substantial contribution to policy discussions, as it will
provide a larger framework for considering several big issues such as corporate
responsibility and who will fund/own the technology.
Nanotechnology Conference Report
From March 20-23, 2003, I joined about 65 other serious-minded people in
Discovering the Nanoscale international conference at the University of
South Carolina in Columbia, SC, USA. Almost all of the attendees were professors
or academics, around 60% of them from USC. Approximately 20% of the attendees
were from institutions of higher learning in Europe, and the rest were from
other colleges and universities in the United States.
Conference attendees represented an interesting mix of disciplines. About 40%
were from the “hard sciences”, such as physics, chemistry, engineering, and
biology. The majority were from other fields, including history, English,
journalism, and law. But the most widely represented field was philosophy. This
was presumably because the Philosophy Department at USC was primarily
responsible for conceiving, planning, and presenting the conference. I was
pleased to see that a large number of people with diverse backgrounds and points
of view would assemble to consider the important questions raised by
We began on Thursday evening with a panel discussion of Michael Crichton’s
controversial novel, Prey. Almost everyone agreed that the science in the book
is not very accurate, but there was far less agreement about the value of the
work as a novel, or about the impact it might have on the development of
nanotechnology. Some speakers and audience members defended the book as a work
of fiction by a talented writer, and said that the author of a novel should not
be expected to get all of the science right. I made the point that if Crichton
is writing a novel that includes highly questionable science, he should not give
it false legitimacy by including a scholarly introduction and scientific
bibliography. Most people seemed to agree that bringing public attention to the
possible risks and ethical questions of advanced nanotechnology is a good thing.
Some, however, were concerned about having the terms of debate framed by a
writer whose novels read more like film treatments.
On Friday morning we turned our attention to more serious topics, beginning with
four speakers commenting on Epistemology and Methodology. The afternoon session
included three presentations on Instrumentation. It was interesting for me to
see how much discussion there was in the afternoon about the difficulties in
seeing-and knowing what we are seeing-at the molecular level. The last speaker
of the day was Hans Glimell, from Goteberg University in Sweden, who delivered a
fascinating speech about the politics involved in exploring the possibilities of
I had lunch on Friday with several participants, including Joseph Pitt from
Virginia Tech and Emmanuelle Boubour from Rice University. Both expressed
interest in the work that CRN is doing. Friday evening a group of us had dinner
at a nice outdoor restaurant near USC. I had a long, productive, and enjoyable
conversation with Rosalyn Berne from the University of Virginia. She is writing
a book based on interviews with a number of nanotech scientists.
Saturday morning began with three presentations on Interdisciplinarity and the
Science-Technology Relation, and two presenters on Science and Technology
Policy. In his remarks, Jody Roberts of Virginia Tech frequently referred to an
article by Paul C. Lin-Easton, subtitled “A Call for the Involvement of
Environmental Lawyers in Developing Precautionary Policies for Molecular
Nanotechnology”. In this regard, I would call the attention of readers to CRN’s
paper, Applying the Precautionary Principle to
The weather was beautiful in South Carolina, so several of us had a picnic lunch
on Saturday near a fountain on the campus. I had a good talk with conference
organizers Davis Baird of USC and Alfred Nordmann of Technische Universitat
Darmstadt, Germany. Working with co-organizer Joachim Schummer of USC, they are
already well along with plans for a follow-up conference to be held October
10-12, 2003, in Germany.
On Saturday afternoon, we started with three presentations on Rhetoric and
Beliefs, followed by three speakers on Ethics, Politics, and Technology
Assessment. Presenters discussed looming issues of privacy, intellectual
property, extended human lifespans, and even grey goo. The last speaker on
Saturday was Mark Gubrud of the University of Maryland, who led us through an
alarming assessment of the military implications of nanotech. A key point was
that using accessible language and avoiding hyperbole would improve
communication about all these issues. I noticed that apparently there is
extensive misunderstanding about the most likely developmental sequence for
molecular nanotechnology. CRN will probably work on an article to clarify this.
There was a concluding banquet on Saturday night, which unfortunately I was
unable to attend because I had to get back to New York. Overall this was an
outstanding conference. Amid all the talk about the economic potential of
nanotech, it is extremely important that we take some time to focus on the
societal implications and potential risks of such a powerful new technology. I
came away from the conference with renewed conviction that CRN’s call for
international cooperation in developing and administering advanced
nanotechnology is the right approach.
If you are aware of other conferences that CRN should consider attending, or
where we could submit a paper, please let us know.
CRN Executive Director
C-R-Newsletter #5 March 22, 2003
Activity update from Chris Phoenix
We got the reviews of the Bootstrapping paper. There's nothing wrong
with the ideas, but the presentation could be improved. So now I'm
rewriting it. Instead of spending 45 pages to show that a nanofactory
could be bootstrapped in a few weeks, I'll use maybe 55 pages to do a
much more general study deriving formulas relating assembler performance
to nanofactory performance—and then use them to compute that
bootstrapping could happen in a few weeks. This approach is a lot
harder to argue with and a lot more generally useful.
We're planning to publish our Preliminary Results pages at the beginning
Mike is currently attending a
conference on nanotech and society. We'll
have a lot to tell you in a few days about how our ideas were received
CRN In The News
CRN has been attracting media attention. I've given several interviews
to reporters writing articles, and recently did my first radio
Changesurfer Radio interviewed me for half an hour recently.
A transcript of the whole interview (typed in by me) is at:
The Ottawa Citizen had a very informative article about nanotech, with
some quotes from us, and I wish I could give you the URL, but alas they
seem to have taken it down already.
C-R-Newsletter #4 March 6, 2003
Quick update from Chris Phoenix
CRN has not published much in the past few weeks. Ironically, this is because
we've been too busy writing. We've submitted several preliminary grant
inquiries for several different purposes. Mike has written a popular article on
the Bootstrapping paper, and we're deciding where to send it. I've written
another article and gotten it tentatively placed.
Earlier this week, I finished the first draft of "preliminary results" — about
40 pages summarizing our current understanding of MNT development schedule,
benefits, risks, possible solutions and why many of them won't work, and
administration that may be necessary to do MNT safely. I've sent this out to a
few people for review, and if responses are favorable, we will be posting this
on our website soon and issuing a press release. (Yes, in the last Newsletter,
it was only 25 pages long.)
In theory, the reviews for the Bootstrapping paper will be back tomorrow! In
practice, it'll probably be sometime next week. I'm not expecting that a lot of
changes will be required. So that'll probably go up in a couple more weeks.
I also sent our first business cards off to the printer this week. It's nice to
be official! Many thanks to the person (who's on the newsletter list) whose
donation made that possible.
If you want to get the newsletter more often, or formatted better, or with more
content, please volunteer to be CRN's newsletter editor! We would also like
advice on where to place articles. And we will be happy to do speaking
engagements in the area of New York City or Tucson, Arizona.
C-R-Newsletter #3 February 23, 2003
Mike Treder, Executive Director, reports on CRN's first presentation
Chris Phoenix, Director of Research, discusses his current work
Report from Mike Treder:
As Executive Director of CRN, I was invited to make a presentation at the February 20 science symposium at New York University. CRN was
part of a panel discussion on "Global Impacts of Emerging
Technologies". I presented a 10-minute
PowerPoint slide show on
nanofactories and answered several questions.
CRN's presentation seemed to generate a great deal of excitement
and audience interest. Among the topics raised in the Q&A segment
were concerns about preventing environmental damage, the risk of a
black market in advanced nanotech, and the possibilities for creating
an international regulatory regime.
This event represented the first formal opportunity for CRN to
present our ideas and positions in a group setting. I came away from
this rewarding experience with three clear impressions:
1. CRN's policies have been well-developed and will meet with approval from most thinking people.
2. CRN is ahead of the curve. There were techno-savvy futurist thinkers in the audience who had not yet seen the implications of nanofactory technology.
3. It's going to be a long haul — CRN is on to something vitally important, but there are years of hard work ahead of us as we continue advancing our policy ideas.
Report from Chris Phoenix:
Two weeks ago, I mentioned a big technical paper that was "almost" ready
for formal review. That was slightly too optimistic. It's now six
pages longer (48 pages total!) and has five detailed illustrations—and
I know a lot more than I wish I did about how to use Adobe Illustrator.
But it will finally be submitted for review on Monday, and if the
reviewers don't find any serious problems, it should be published online
The paper goes into great detail to describe how rapidly a tabletop
"nanofactory" can be developed after we get a basic nanotech
"assembler". The paper has survived several rounds of review from some
very smart people, and I'm now pretty comfortable saying that the time
could be less than two months. A week after that, the factory and its
duplicates could be producing pre-designed products by the kiloton.
Needless to say, this could be extremely disruptive!
I have wondered whether I'm being irresponsible by writing and
publishing a semi-complete recipe for how to do a crucial step in the
deployment of advanced nanotechnology. I have concluded that, although
most people may not realize how easy this step really is, there's
nothing very innovative in the paper. The basic ideas took me only a
few weeks to work out. I'm not making the step easier—I'm just proving
how easy it already is. Which is very important information for
At the same time, I've been writing up some "preliminary results" that
we'll be publishing on our website to get discussion flowing. They're
up to about 25 pages already, and will probably be double or triple that
by the time I'm done. We hope to find some agreement, some argument,
and possibly some co-authors to help turn the information into formal
I've been keeping half an eye on the media, and I have to agree with
what Mike said. CRN's topic and message is extremely relevant today,
and its importance will continue to grow. People are talking about
nanotech risks, calling for discussion and education, wondering where
the technology will take us. We've been pretty quiet the last few
weeks, but we have been far from idle.
C-R-Newsletter #2 February 7, 2003
We have a lot of new people on our newsletter list. Welcome! This is
another quick, informal note to let everyone know what's going on.
Mike is busy researching granting organizations; we're looking for money
to support paper writing, publicity, and going to conferences, among
Chris, as always, is busy writing. The technical paper we mentioned
last week has gotten good preliminary reviews and is almost ready for
submission and formal review. We've decided to put the policy paper on
hold for a week or two while we write up a summary of our research
results so far; we'll post that on our web site for comment.
Thanks again for your interest in CRN!
Director of Research
C-R-Newsletter #1 January 28, 2003
Thank you for signing up for our newsletter list. We have not yet
started a regular newsletter, but we wanted to send a quick note anyway
to tell you what we're doing, and to reassure you that we did not lose
your email address.
Chris has been writing papers non-stop. One of them is a 40-page
technical paper, demonstrating how quickly a tabletop nanotech
manufacturing system can be created once a basic "assembler" is
developed. This has been sent out for preliminary review, and we plan
to publish it in a peer-reviewed on-line journal.
The other paper extends our published
Safe Utilization paper by covering
some issues involved with Effective Administration. The basic
conclusion is that effective administration is possible but will not be
easy. Chris is already thinking about additional papers.
On the media side, CRN is very pleased to report that our Safe
Utilization paper has been re-published by the
Kurzweil AI website.
(They also re-published
Chris's review of Michael Crichton's Prey.)
In the next few weeks, Mike and Chris will be working on polishing and
publishing the two new papers mentioned above; getting our fund-raising
activities into full swing; soliciting speaking opportunities at
conferences; getting media attention for our message that advanced
nanotech requires careful preparation; and starting work on at least two
Thanks again for your interest in CRN!
Director of Research
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